1992.02.19: Commission’s Ruling on Conduct Decried (NY Law Journal)

New York Law Journal
February 19, 1992

Letters: To the Editor

COMMISSION’S RULING ON CONDUCT DECRIED
Michael Z. Letwin[FNa]
New York. N.Y.

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct’s summary dismissal of charges against Criminal Court Judge Bernadette Bayne (NYLJ, Feb. 13), is an affront to all of us who represent indigent defendants.

This complaint was filed after Judge Bayne ordered that Legal Aid staff attorney Michelle Myers be jailed in Brooklyn Criminal Court on Dec. 3, 1991. Ms. Myers was then cuffed to a chair near the court pens for 20 minutes (NYLJ, Dec. 13, 18). When challenged at the time about why Ms. Myers was cuffed, the judge replied “she [Myers] was late.”

Immediately prior to ordering that Ms. Myers be taken into custody, Judge Bayne had prevented the attorney from making a record about her presence in numerous Supreme Court parts that morning and her repeated calls to the judge’s court. Judge Bayne had also been unsuccessful in forcing Myers to proceed in a pretrial hearing while her client remained illegally handcuffed.

In essence, Ms. Myers was shackled for ardently and properly doing her job.

In protest of Judge Bayne’s conduct, on Dec. 12 well over 100 Brooklyn Legal Aid attorneys walked off the job and picketed the courthouse. This demonstration was criticized in some quarters on the grounds that we should have relied on a formal complaint to the Commission.

However, in dismissing a complaint against such blatant abuse, the Judicial Commission has sent the clear message that Legal Aid attorneys and clients are fair game, a statement that ultimately poses a threat to all conscientious attorneys. Doing so without a hearing further demonstrates that the Commission is prepared to serve merely as a rubber stamp for judicial misconduct.

Until there exists a genuine remedy 1,000 Legal Aid attorneys facing judicial abuse in the future will remain compelled to defend our rights – and those of our clients – with immediate, direct action.

a The author is president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.

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